Surviving the Pandemic is All About Being Able to Adapt
COVID-19 has been almost random when it comes to the businesses it has demolished and the businesses it has spared. As people spend more time at home, iconic restaurants like La Dorada have gone under, while flower shop Belle Fleur has seen a flourishing business, for the same reason. We spoke to four business professionals in different fields, to see how they have pivoted during the coronavirus.
Maritza Fernandez owns and runs a design studio and retail outlet on Ponce de Leon Boulevard. across from Neiman Marcus. She says that initially COVID-19 evaporated demand for her dresses, as everyone went into sequester. “I was in Milan working on my Fall/Winter 2020 collection when Italy – and specifically Milan – became the epicenter of COVID. The shortage of masks in different cities in Italy made me think they would be in high demand in Miami. We immediately started reorganizing our operation to produce fashionable and safe masks.” During the summer, Fernandez made and sold 2,500 silk designer masks online at $30 each. She also experienced a rise in walk-in traffic from Neiman Marcus refugees who wanted a safe, intimate shopping experience. “We are doing very well now,” she says.
Ramon Cernuda owns and runs the premier gallery of Cuban art in the Coral Gables. When the coronavirus hit, all six annual art fairs he attends were canceled, and visitors to his gallery on Ponce de Leon disappeared. “We decided to follow what we call a modified traditional gallery program,” he says. “In the early to mid-20th century, galleries did not attend art fairs, as there were none. And art openings at galleries were private gatherings for the artist, his or her family and friends.” Instead, galleries worked closely with major collectors, providing various services. One of them: Transporting canvases to their homes. Cernuda has done just that, with great success. “Sometimes when they see the works of art, they just don’t want to let them go,” he says. Cernuda has also increased his online activity, “to inform our clients on what is available.”
Leslie Pantin, Jr.
Leslie Pantin Jr.’s profession – a registered lobbyist at Coral Gables City Hall – was ill-adapted for a pandemic that made personal interaction impossible. “The actual ‘lobby’ part of lobbying has been eliminated,” he says. “By this I mean the casual bumping into or grabbing the attention of – always politely and respectfully, of course – a staff member or an elected official before, after or during a meeting.” Pantin also lost the opportunity to run into private individuals at City Hall. The solution, he says, has been to go virtual and work the phone. “This is where having strong relationships with key stakeholders is crucial. We are able to reach them via cellphone or text instead of meeting in person” he says. “It’s a little less spontaneous, but you get their full attention.” As for the rest, he says, “We have transitioned almost totally to virtual/Zoom meetings.”
CEO, Nolan Reynolds International
Brent Reynolds was completing his massive mixed-use project Paseo on U.S. 1 across from UM when the pandemic broke out. Worst hit was the new THesis Hotel in the complex, which as of September drew only 15 percent occupancy, despite projections for twice that number. Reynolds attributes the low occupancy to “The overall decrease in travel, and gatherings in general… Group business has been impacted the most,” he says. On the other hand, the 65 percent occupancy of 204 apartment units in the Paseo’s residential section was twice what his team had projected; the blend is how Paseo is surviving the pandemic. “We were well positioned with the current design to easily implement social distancing protocols,” he says, including for use of amenities like the fourth-floor pool deck. “We just stayed focused on the local market,” he says, notably staff from nearby UM.